The Stanford lineup is the quintessential package. That much was on full display on this beautiful Bay Area February night. The Cardinal pack power throughout the entire nine, starting with the leadoff man.
Stanford doesn't waste any time jumping immediately to the brawn of its lineup, or, as it's also coming to be known around Sunken Diamond, the entire lineup. Jake Stewart crushed a leadoff home run to left field. Tyler Gaffney wreaked havoc behind him, as Stanford's 1-2 punch combined to go 6-for-8 with two RBI and five runs scored.
That's elite offensive production from two strong guys who also happen to have dazzling speed. Stewart would later bunt for a base hit and steal a base. Meanwhile, Gaffney's solid baseball instincts were on display in the second inning, when his heads-up bluff at third base allowed Stephen Piscotty to escape a rundown and advance 90 feet. That alert play extended the Cardinal inning and paved the way for a three-run outburst that put Texas in a 5-0 hole early.
Stanford fans should cherish this speed-power combination at the top of the Cardinal lineup, because it's rare. "Stewart and Gaffney cause a lot of trouble up there with their speed," Stanford coach Mark Marquess said. "But they're just the beginning with guys like Piscotty and Brian Ragira coming up behind them."
Living up to the hype
Mark Appel is legitimizing the hype that has surrounded him ever since Baseball America projected the right-hander to be the first pick in this June's MLB draft. Appel (2-0) set a new career high with 10 strikeouts in seven innings on his way to another win. The hard-throwing right-hander gave up only one run and dazzled with both his fastball and his off-speed pitches, especially an absolutely filthy slider.
"I felt better out there this time out than last week," Appel said. "I'm starting to feel very comfortable with my pitches."
Schmidt to the rescue – a question answered?
Freshman David Schmidt relieved a struggling A.J. Vanegas to rescue Stanford from a bases-loaded eighth inning jam and pick up his first career save with four outs of quality work. At this point, it's clear that Schmidt is the front-runner to grab the closer spot the drafted Chris Reed vacated.
"He can definitely do the job, he pitched lights out all fall," Appel said. "It helps that he can throw 93 with a foot of sink on the ball."
As for Vanegas, he retired only two batters while surrendering two hits and walking two. "AJ's just not himself confidence-wise right now," Marquess said. "We'll work to get him back on track."
This all means that either Dean McArdle or freshman John Hochstatter, who impressed greatly in 6.2 no-hit relief innings last Sunday, will get the starting nod on Sunday in place of Vanegas.
The middle of the infield question
Stanford came closer to answering yet another question with shortstop Lonnie Kauppila's superb defensive performance. The highlight was a spectacular barehanded pickup of a 6-4-3 double play ball to deliver the Cardinal from bases-loaded trouble in the fifth inning. So far, Marquess has been swapping Kauppila and Kenny Diekroeger between shortstop and second base, but his defensive performance today may have gone a long way in entrenching Kauppila's position on the left side of the infield.
"We'll just play it by feel for now," Marquess said. "They're both good players."
So, no worries from the Stanford camp as the Cardinal improve to 5-0. Friday's win over Texas showcased the team's power, speed, pitching, defense and smarts. It's still early, but it looks like Stanford may have the full package this season.
About the Author: David Lombardi is a Stanford and Pac-12 Conference enthusiast. He has broadcast the Cardinal on KZSU for several years and is currently contributing to the Cardinal Channel. You can check several of his Stanford calls out at www.davidmatthewlombardi.com, where you can also read his West Coast-oriented blog via this direct link. For Stanford baseball insights, follow David on Twitter at davidmlombardi.
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